I-522 is about transparency and right to choose
By Sam Lucy
As “First Tuesday” nears, I’d like to simplify Initiative 522, the labeling initiative for genetically engineered food ingredients. I-522 is about freedom, transparency and the right for consumers to know what exactly is in their packaged food.
Although all other ingredients must be listed on food labels, at this point there remains no mandate that genetically altered ingredients must so be labeled. In other words, consumers have no real way of knowing whether the corn syrup, beet sugar or canola in their food comes from a genetically modified organism (GMO) patented crop source or not.
Why label them (GMOs)? After all, our own government says there are no “proven” health concerns associated with genetically modified foods. If there were, of course they would not allow them into the food chain, right?
Forget the fact that our Food and Drug Administration bases its entire opinion on the science and evaluations done by the same companies who make these genetically engineered food ingredient crops and foods. Let’s stick with the fact that there is apparently enough documented evidence otherwise – ignored or not – to raise concern among enough consumers that in this state, almost 400,000 signed the initiative. This after a bill, co-sponsored by representative Cary Condotta (R-East Wenatchee) failed to make last year’s ballot. As with most things, consumer choice is the impetus here.
One must have been asleep the last month or so to have missed all the anti-I-522 propaganda that’s been arriving either via mail, or electronically. Prominent farm organizations such as the Farm Bureau send out hard copies at least weekly.
From a producer’s standpoint, I can say I-522 is not a farming issue. If passed, this law will not affect farmer choice one bit. Farmers will still have all the GMO seed available that they do now, and they can continue choosing whether or not they want to use it. Currently, there are scores of stipulations farmers must adhere to if they use genetically engineered food ingredient seed; I-522 will add inconsequentially to any current paper work.
Nor is I-522 a pro- or anti-organic vs. conventional farming campaign. True, the best way consumers have to safeguard against eating GMO ingredients, if they so choose, is to buy organic foods. However, since the organic industry is not subsidized, organic foods generally cost more at face value. Many may want to simply avoid or at least have the choice to avoid genetically engineered food ingredients. They may or may not be as concerned whether their foods are grown under an organic system.
From a food processor’s standpoint, I-522 adds inconsequentially to our costs as well. Re-labeling is something that goes on annually anyway for most processors. Adding or subtracting a few ingredients makes little difference. Sixty-four other countries currently require genetically engineered food ingredient labeling. Many exporters here in the Northwest therefore already do some genetically engineered food ingredient labeling. If certain grocer groups like the Grocers Manufacturers Association chose to boost consumer prices based on imaginary added costs, that remains their choice. Oil companies use the same logic under different scenarios and keep gas prices yo-yoing all the time.
Once again, Monsanto leads the funding to shoot down I-522, as it did with Proposition 37, a similarly written labeling law narrowly defeated in California last year. Monsanto alone contributed $40 million in protest of Proposition 37. This round, after a lawsuit was brought forth forcing the anti-I-522 campaign to clearly divulge their funding sources, we learn that Monsanto is followed by Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Nestle and Hershey in anti-campaign funding. Trick or Treat? Perhaps these health-food companies don’t want to spoil the cost of Halloween.
One might ask: Why does Monsanto – always portending to be proud of their GMO seed patents and resulting foods atop their crusade to feed the world – neglect to take advantage of this free labeling campaign? Why wouldn’t Monsanto want consumers to know that their patented goodies are very much a part of folk’s every meal?
Some may have heard the pro-I-522 ads on KOZI. These ads were produced and paid for by a group of commercial grain farmers up in Waterville. Collectively, they are big-time grain producers on thousands of acres. I’m not the only farmer in eastern Washington supporting I-522.
This opportunity is a follow-up to blurbs that have been running on KTRT for the past week. Again, I encourage all to fill in your ballots and please consider voting yes on I-522. We cannot make fair and thorough food choices without knowing exactly what is in our food. This is America. Let freedom rule.
Sam Lucy is co-owner of Bluebird Grain Farms LLC near Winthrop.